Grenada – in, out and successful
Today, I want to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1983 Grenada “rescue mission” because it was a textbook example of a U.S. military operation that accomplished its objectives and left the idyllic “Spice Island” better off than it was before the intervention.
Others may quarrel with my interpretation of Operation Urgent Fury but I know what really happened on the island because I was there.
It all began quietly enough in late October, 1983, when I was the public affairs officer at the American Embassy in Lima, Peru. The ambassador and I were meeting with the U.S. delegation to an Interamerican Press Association convention when I received a phone call from Washington, D.C., instructing me to board the next flight to Miami and on to Grenada, where a military invasion was under way. “Why me?” I wondered as I went home to pack for an exciting adventure in the southeastern Caribbean.
As it turned out, the U.S. military and the media were at war. Several veteran correspondents, who I knew well from my years as an embassy press attaché in Latin America, had been “captured” by the commanding officer of the Grenada invasion, Navy Admiral Joseph Metcalfe, who was re-fighting the Vietnam War.
Meanwhile, several hundred journalists who were confined to nearby Barbados tried to cover the story from there. American correspondents angrily accused our government of violating their First Amendment rights and we – myself and two U.S. Information Agency colleagues – were directed to make peace between the military and the media in the most daunting assignment of my 28-year Foreign Service career.
We received our marching orders from White House Counselor David Gergen, now a top editor at U.S. News & World Report and frequent TV news “talking head.” When my USIA colleagues and I finally arrived at Grenada’s Point Salines International Airport, which the Cubans were building (with extra-long runways), the situation was chaotic. Two days into the invasion, heavily armed Cuban “construction workers” were acting as snipers along the road that connected the airport to the island’s quaint, red-roofed capital, St. George’s. We hunkered down overnight before making the trip into the capital.
Our first task, after intensive long-distance negotiations with University of the West Indies officials in Kingston, Jamaica, was to establish a makeshift international press center at historic Marryshow House, the university’s cultural center in downtown St. George’s. Our next challenge was to break the military’s media embargo and bring the journalistic hordes to Grenada, where the action was.
We succeeded thanks to the exercise’s deputy commander, Gen. Edward Trobaugh, of the famous 82nd Airborne Batallion, a friend of mine who had been our embassy defense attaché in Madrid, Spain, a couple of years earlier. Trobaugh convinced the admiral to let our civilian public affairs team handle the media, and we were on our way. I offered two-a-day press briefings for the next two weeks before returning to Lima. Eventually, press coverage turned around and most correspondents reported that Operation Urgent Fury had achieved its objectives, and that an overwhelming majority of Grenadians were grateful for our timely intervention in order to prevent further bloodshed.
The invasion took place under the auspices of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, which requested assistance from the U.S. and island states, including Barbados and Jamaica, following the murders of Grenada’s left-leaning Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and four members of his Cabinet in an apparent hard-line Marxist coup attempt led by Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard, who had close ties to Cuba. Thus ended Grenada’s brief flirtation with Communism.
Just last week, Coard and other members of the “Grenada 17,” as they are known, initiated a new effort aimed at commuting the lengthy sentences they’re serving at a crumbling 17th-century prison overlooking the picturesque St. George’s harbor. According to press reports, however, government officials have shown no willingness to release the convicts, who are responsible for at least 88 deaths including 19 Americans.
I’m convinced the Grenada invasion is a positive example of U.S. military intervention because it achieved the two main objectives established by then-President Ronald Reagan: 1) it stopped the violence within a few days and 2) it restored peaceful conditions under which Grenadians could once again elect their own leaders. In fact, most Grenadians were so grateful that they wore “Thank You, America” T-shirts and mounted public protests when our troops went home, as President Reagan had promised.
I’ve read a lot of revisionist history about Grenada over the past 20 years, including charges from a fellow Swift Newspapers journalist that we “lied” about the threat to American medical students on the island during the invasion. But since I organized a meeting between the students and a U.S. congressional delegation, I can testify the students were virtual hostages in their dormitories when the Marxist violence erupted. In summary, we did the right thing in Grenada and our exit strategy was successful. I wish I could say the same thing about Iraq.
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, was the U.S. Mission’s public affairs officer and press spokesman during the multinational invasion of Grenada in October 1983.